Whether or not a person contributes to a 401(k) plan may influence his or her health. Commenting on their study of employees with access to company-sponsored wellness testing, Timothy Gubler and Lamar Pierce of Washington University said they found that “retirement savings and health-improvement behaviors were highly correlated. Individuals who had previously chosen to save for the future by making 401(k) contributions improved their health significantly more than non-contributors did, even though there were few health differences between the two groups prior to program implementation.”
The study was limited in scope, but its authors believe the results demonstrate the impact of time-discounting preferences. Time discounting refers to whether a person prefers to realize a benefit now (e.g., the payment of cash) or prefers to postpone in exchange for a better benefit in the future (e.g., a larger payment of cash). The authors opine that if discounting preferences can be changed in one domain, such as the setting aside of a portion of current pay for retirement, discounting preferences are also easier to change in other domains, such as health.